Thomas the Tank Engine Vegetable Trains ♥

Thomas the Tank Engine Vegetable Trains ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 Hosting a Thomas the Tank Engine theme party? Here's a fun addition to kids' birthday parties and family gatherings with a train theme, colorful and healthy! It's just bell-pepper train "cars" with cucumber "wheels" filled with fresh vegetable "cargo". It's easy to make and great fun for a buffet table centerpiece! graphic button small size size 10

So exactly what is it with little boys and trains? And for that matter, big boys grown men and trains? Twin grandsons are eight now so Thomas the Tank Engine has lost some of its allure. What hasn't, however, is the daily challenge of assembling wooden train tracks that cross the living room floor and then u-turn into a bedroom and under the beds. At Christmas, their PopPop (aka The Man With the Hands) built a two-level train platform with several loop-di-loops that dominated the living room for weeks. Young to old, we gathered round the platform, mesmerized by the tiny battery-charged trains circling round and round, holding our breaths each time "Percy" first faltered then chug-chug-chugged his way up a steep mountain track.

And what is it with me and vegetables? :-) I borrowed a few extra wood train tracks to assemble railroad cars from bell peppers and cucumber slices, then stuffed the train cars with other vegetables. Twas fun! Thanks to my sister Adanna for the inspiration!

How To Microwave Asparagus ♥

How to cook asparagus in the microwave ♥
graphic button small size size 10 Today's microwave recipe: How to cook fresh asparagus in the microwave, quick 'n' easy and absolutely delicious. Weight Watchers Friendly. Low Cal. Low Carb. Naturally Gluten Free. Paleo. Vegetarian. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real". graphic button small size size 10

~recipe updated, first published back in 2014~
~cuz everybody should eat asparagus this good!~
~more recently updated recipes~

F-A-I-L. How in bloody h-e-double-toothpicks in nine years of cooking vegetables did I ever miss this most basic way to cook asparagus? These are my explanations feeble excuses for somehow overlooking the microwave for cooking asparagus:

graphic button small size size 10 "Couldn't see for looking," my mother used to say when she couldn't find something and then suddenly, there it was, right before her eyes.
graphic button small size size 10 Some times the most obvious is least expected.
graphic button small size size 10 Some times it's possible to hide in plain sight.

When the first asparagus showed up in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, Missouri was still a frozen, snowy place. Buying asparagus felt like defying winter, a determined act of spring hope. I threw the first batch in the microwave for lunch one day, grabbing the camera after the first bite: perfect, absolutely perfect. That night, I put another batch in the microwave: again, a hit. I remembered my long-time favorite asparagus steamer and relegated it to the basement storage room year-round. For a fast fresh vegetable, microwave asparagus is terrific!

NOW. I know some people object to microwaves and strongly believe that a microwave removes nutrients from food. I don't share that idea but do respect your viewpoint. If you'd like to comment, do but be polite and respect my viewpoint as well. Impolite comments will be microwaved deleted. For those who appreciate the speed and convenience of microwaves, check out the brand-new page, Microwave Vegetable Recipes.

Carrot Recipes ♥ Alphabet Vegetables

Tired of the same-old boring baby carrots? Find new inspiration in this collection of seasonal Carrot Recipes from, savory to sweet, salads to sides, soups to supper, sandwiches to smoothies, simple to special. Many Weight Watchers, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, paleo, whole30 recipes.
Hello Vegetable Lovers: Every so often, like now! watch for some housekeeping with the Alphabet of Vegetables here on A Veggie Venture. The goal is to separate out our "most favorite" vegetables so their pages will load more quickly, handy for all but especially those of us who check for recipes on our phones on-the-go. Today? Carrots! ~Alanna

PS Facebook & Pinterest users, if you love A Veggie Venture, be sure to "like" and "pin" this page! More and more, search engines and even real-live human beings rely on social media indicators to identify favorite sources of trusted information.

IN A RUSH? Prefer Another Vegetable?
Skip Straight to the CARROT RECIPES or Switch to the A-Z of Vegetables.

Pronounced [KARE-uts].

The Season. The carrot season is "summer to early fall" but carrots are a staple vegetables easily and inexpensively found year-round. The Carrot Family. The carrot family includes parsnips, parsley root and a South American root called arracha. Special Diets. Carrots are gluten-free, paleo approved, South Beach diet approved (Phase 2), Weight Watchers friendly and Whole30 approved. Naturally, specific preparations matter to each of these eating regimens. Are Carrots Starchy Vegetables? They're not! Like turnips and beets, carrots contain little to no starch. Baby Carrots? NOT!!! AVOID!!! For convenience, bags of "baby" carrots require no peeling and no cutting. For taste, so long as they're eaten raw, baby carrots are not great but fine. Trouble is, so-called "baby" carrots aren't young, tender carrots at all. Instead, they are machine-processed into identical carrot bullets drilled from huge industrial-size carrots, a practice that goes back only to 1989 and is credited with a nearly 2x increase in carrot consumption. Great marketing but once cooked, flat lifeless taste! So for cooking, choose whole carrots and invest a couple of minutes to wash and trim them yourself. If you've only eaten these baby carrots, experience a taste revelation by cooking whole carrots! Are Carrots Always Orange? In fact, no! Dating back to what are now Afghanistan and Iran, the earliest carrots were purple! (No surprise, then, that the traditional Afghan Chicken & Rice Casserole (Kabeli Palau) is topped with buttery grated carrot.) Orange carrots were first cultivated in the Netherlands about 400 years ago. In the last year or so, Trader Joe's has been selling bags of multi-color carrots, some orange, some yellow, some white and some a dramatic purple on the inside and orange in the center. They're beautiful! To my taste, however, they're not so good, even roasted which should draw out sweetness. All good looks, not good taste, slightly better raw than cooked. Are There Carrot Flowers? There are! Wild carrots grow with abundance in meadows at our country place but their flowers were already familiar to me. You see, my grandmother's garden was filled with the old-fashioned flower called Queen Anne's Lace. The tiny white blossoms array in flat lacey heads with a "prick" of purple flower in the center. Story goes, that center is a pinprick of blood from Queen Anne, who pricked her finger while sewing lace. Are Carrot Tops Edible? The leaves of carrots are indeed safe to eat. But once you bring home carrots with their "tops" on, cut them off so they don't leach moisture from the carrots themselves. But even if you're not going to cook the carrot tops, watch for these just-from-the-ground carrots at a farmers market, even Whole Foods. They're more expensive but taste completely different from the bags of commercial carrots at the supermarket, so so good! Should Carrots Be Peeled? The skins of just-pulled carrots from gardens, farmstands and CSAs are often so tender, there's no need to peel the carrots. During certain times of the year, even grocery store carrots in cellophane bags are quite fresh and tender, other times, the skins are pretty gnarly and bitter in taste. To peel or not to peel? I let appearance be the guide. Growing Carrots at Home. Carrots were a staple in World War II victory gardens. Last year, we planted carrots seeds and were rewarded by wonderful-tasting but stunted and deformed carrots. Turns out, our raised beds aren't deep enough: when the carrot tap roots ran out of soft dirt, they quit growing. Carrots in World War II. Eat your carrots, my mom admonished. "Carrots help us see in the dark!" Thanks to an abundance of Vitamin A, carrots are indeed good for eye health. But in World War II, a British dis-information campaign claimed that carrots were the reason an ace pilot was able to shoot down twenty enemy planes, nineteen at night. (The real reason? A new technology we now know as "radar".) Street posters promised that carrots would give Britons better eyesight during night-time blackouts. During the war years, sugar was rationed so innovative cooks used the sweetness of carrots in the likes of carrot pudding, carrot cake, carrot marmalade and carrot flan, encouraged by a cartoon carrot, Doctor Carrot. Carrot Capital of the World. The small town of Holtville in southern California is the self-proclaimed Carrot Capital of the World and hosts an annual carrot festival. Carrots for Word Dancers. The "carrot and stick" approach was first applied to mules! French Mirepoix. The "trinity" of vegetables in France is called mirepoix [pronounced MEER-PWAH], a mix of diced onion, celery and carrot, traditionally in a 2:1:1 ratio measured by weight. Start Carrots in Cold Water! For firmer cooked carrots (and potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets and beans), immerse the carrots in cold water before turning on the heat. Why? This lets the outer areas and inner areas cook more evenly. Natural Pairings. Carrots have a natural affinity with these flavors: ginger, lemon, lime and orange; butter and cream; parsley, cinnamon, cumin (my favorite!), dill, tarragon, thyme and mint; maple syrup, honey and other sugars. Sources. Personal experience and accumulated learning, also the most-wonderful On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee, Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka, The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, the Carrot Museum and most recently, The Carrot Purple (And Other Curious Stories of the Food We Eat by Joel S. Denker.

Blue Apron: How It Works for Someone Who Wants Real Food But Doesn’t Like to Cook

A Blue Apron review, Warm Sunny Day by
graphic button small size size 10 How does Blue Apron work for someone who doesn't like to cook but wants to eat real food? A non-foodie's perspective! graphic button small size size 10

Please welcome Minnesota nature photographer Barb Kellogg to A Veggie Venture! Barb is a talented, creative photographer. Flowers and treescapes make up the majority of her work. That's her image "Warm Sunny Day," doesn't it have have a soft, dreamy feel? Much of her work does. In fact, you won't be alone to mistake Barb's fine-art nature photographs for paintings! (And yes, we're related! Cousins!)

Barb also does portrait work. Last spring, she did a photo shoot of me with my dog Lady. I was so happy with her work! Two favorite shots have been been on my personal Facebook page ever since. I can't bear to take them down!

Anyway, Blue Apron! When Barb mentioned on Facebook that she and her husband had signed up for the subscription meal-kit service Blue Apron, right away, I had the idea that after a few months, others might be interested in her experience. Truth be told? When I asked her about sharing her experience, I didn't even know if she would offer thumbs up or thumbs down!

You see, cooking is just not Barb's thing. She's a photographer, not a foodie. We laugh how cooking-wise, we have so little in common. In fact, I'm laughing again now, putting together this post, because all Barb says about Blue Apron's food is that "it's good" – that's compared to my fellow food bloggers who go on and on about quality ingredients and good cooking techniques.

Spoiler Alert? Barb's experience is overall positive! And for anyone who's wondering? This is NOT a sponsored post.

Bok Choy Salad with Homemade Creamy Vinaigrette ♥

Bok Choy Salad with Homemade Creamy Vinaigrette ♥
graphic button small size size 10 Today's quick, flexible and dare-I-say addictive salad recipe: Raw bok choy stalks and greens tossed in a light creamy vinaigrette, topped with whatever you choose but really special with seasonal fruit, a little cheese and toasted nuts. Low Carb. Weight Watchers Friendly. Naturally Gluten Free. And of course, Totally Delicious! graphic button small size size 10

~recipe updated, first published way back in 2008~
~more recently updated recipes~

Yum. Yuuuuum. Bok choy is the current salad obsession around here. It's got great crunch and a slight bite, a poor man's arugula. For a quick salad at lunch or a supper salad, I add whatever is on hand, some times veering toward more vegetables but more often to salad in the photograph with fruit (citrus is lovely, so are apples and pears), a crumbly cheese (a fresh cheese like goat cheese or a good blue or a creamy feta) and toasted walnuts. It's filling, it's satisfying. It makes for a great salad to share, even a supper salad.

For years and years, I've made really only one one favorite salad dressing recipe. Now there are two! This homemade creamy vinaigrette is it! Yes, it's made with cream. But for four side-salad servings, the dressing itself contributes only 18 calories. That's so do-able! And for one big serving, a substantial supper salad, the dressing only contributes 72 calories. Very do-able. This is definitely a good recipe to add to your arsenal of salad dressings, because you know, the goal is to Never Buy Salad Dressing Again!

Best-Ever Lentil Salad ♥

Best-Ever Lentil Salad with an unusual cooking technique ♥ A Veggie Venture
graphic button small size size 10 By all rights, I should call this recipe One Turnip + One Onion & Six Cloves = The Best-Ever Lentil Salad. But that's kinda long so let's just go with Best-Ever Lentil Salad, the one I've been obsessing over for a couple of months now. Served either warm or cold, it's Vegan and Gluten Free and Weight Watchers Friendly and High Protein and (naturally!) OhSoGood. graphic button small size size 10

So let's talk new-to-us cooking techniques. Who else keeps their eyes peeled for new cooking methods while perusing new cookbooks or diving into promising-looking recipes? You have to stay focused but upon discovery, at least with me, it's either:

graphic button small size size 10 Why didn't I think of that?! (followed by by a head thump) or
graphic button small size size 10 How'd someone ever come up with THAT? (with a sense of incredulity)

Definitely #2, the idea to add a turnip and a clove-studded onion to cook a big pot of lentils. Ina Garten credits a friend, me I credit sheer genius. Story goes, Ina was never keen on lentil salads until a friend mentioned cooking the lentils with a turnip. There's probably some chemistry explanation for what a turnip does to lentils but I'm going with NO.IDEA. Onion and clove are a different story, their addition is subtle, but that savory touch of allium, that teensy-weensy bit of clove is spot-on perfect. (Yes, observant readers, I'm still on an "Cooking for Jeffrey" kick, a la Roasted Applesauce with Raspberries and Celebration Salad.)

Best-Ever Lentil Salad with an unusual cooking technique ♥ A Veggie Venture
Best-Ever Lentil Salad has been a staple since Christmas. I mix another batch every time the jar scrapes empty, just like every few days I make bread (recipe coming soon!) and a big pot of creamy oatmeal.

Just-made and still warm, the salad is sensual and seductive, there's no getting enough, no keeping my spoon out of the bowl. Chilled, it goes great alongside morning eggs (I keep meaning to put a runny egg on top, ohhhhh my) or dropped into a cheese tortilla for lunch. It's easy to keep on hand, endlessly easy to use up.

I already have a few lentil salad recipes that are really good, you might too. If so, try the turnip and clove-studded onion technique on your own recipe. Otherwise? Make this your recipe, it's from me, thanks to Ina and her turnip-genius friend.

Homemade Minestrone Soup ♥ Recipe

Homemade Minestrone Soup, another light but filling soup ♥
graphic button small size size 10 A light-tasting but hearty soup made with low-calorie, low-carb vegetables. For Weight Watchers, a cup is just 1 or 2 points. Not into pasta? No problem, it's just as good without! graphic button small size size 10

~recipe updated from the Recipe Box, first posted 2009!~
~more recently updated recipes~

Today's recipe comes with a lesson in Italian, compliments of the Epicurious food dictionary. (Sorry, I'd share the link but Epicurious keeps breaking its own links. Google and your Veggie Evangelist don't approve!)

"Minestra" [mih-NAYS-truh] means "soup" in Italian. Most often, it refers to a soup of medium thickness, frequently with both meat and vegetables.
"Minestrina" means "little soup" in Italian. It's a thin broth.
"Minestrone" means "big soup"! It's usually a thick vegetable soup containing pasta and sometimes peas or beans, usually topped with grated Parmesan cheese. It's hearty enough for a complete meal!

That makes my version of minestrone someplace in between. It's hearty but tastes light and has just a few calories. My notes on a recipe card dated 1999 read, 'Excellent! Light! Filling!' And so it is.

"I've had this for lunch for five days running and it is fabulous ..." ~ Stephen